Michael Wallace, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said on Monday that the department had received “over 900 emails and several hundred telephone calls” from people who said they had received unsolicited packages of seeds in the mail. Some of those reports came from people in other states, including Maryland, Texas and Florida, he said.
“It’s a widespread issue,” he said.
Mr. Strain, the Louisiana agriculture and forestry commissioner, said on Monday that his department had received more than 150 phone calls from people reporting unsolicited shipments of seeds, including some that appeared to have been sent from Uzbekistan. The department had confirmed that about 100 packages of seeds had been sent to residents across the state, he said.
“We are picking packages up,” he said. “We’re sending our field personnel as soon as a call comes up.” The department had heard from some residents who said they had planted the seeds. The department, he added, planned “to destroy whatever is planted.”
The U.S. Agriculture Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service encourages people to report “potential smuggling of prohibited exotic fruits, vegetables or meat products.”
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Carolee Bull, a professor who leads the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology at Penn State University, said that planting unidentified seeds could be harmful.
“The reason that people are concerned is — especially if the seed is the seed of a similar crop that is grown for income and food, or food for animals — that there may be plant pathogens or insects that are harbored in the seed,” she said.
Seed introduction is tightly regulated in the United States, Professor Bull said. The Plant Protection and Quarantine program, which is operated by the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, has strict rules for the importation of plants and seeds.